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Cereal Anxiety: Thoughts from a Former Food Insecure Kid

I was seven years old and looking at a pantry that was mostly bare. My mom said, “Just grab some cereal–we are in a hurry.”  I remember thinking, “Well, is there any other option?” as I reached up on my tippy toes for the Lucky Charms. 


Sitting at the table looking at the cereal box, I wondered why we didn’t have normal cereal. My cereal was not “actual” Lucky Charms. It was a generic brand called Magic Treasures. The box looked different, and there wasn’t a leprechaun. Instead, there was a magician bunny that didn’t look quite right. I remember just wanting a leprechaun on my box, like the ones my friends had. 


My mom herself was a magician, never letting on to how poor we were. Instead, we had a little apartment full of love while my mom worked two or three jobs. I knew we were different somehow, and it always seemed to reveal itself through feeling insecure around food. 


When I went to friend’s houses, I always had thoughts of:


  • “Wow, they have so much food.”
  • “I wish we could have fruit roll-ups and pop-tarts.”
  • “Why do they have a real leprechaun on their cereal?”


One day, my mom received a small bonus from one of her jobs. As we were heading to the grocery store, she told my brother and me that we could pick one thing we really wanted. I knew immediately that I wanted REAL Lucky Charms.


I couldn’t wait for breakfast the next day and asked my mom if I could have cereal for dinner. My mom said, with a smile, “Sure.” Her smile told me that, somehow, I was giving her a gift by being so excited about what I had picked out at the store. 


With my bowl filled and looking at the real cereal box, I thought, “Now I have the leprechaun, too, not the fake bunny.” And it wasn’t just the box that was different, the cereal tasted different too. The other cereal just could not compare to how good the real thing was. 


I didn’t want to stop eating, so I had three bowls. With my tummy so full it hurt…I felt satisfied. That was a new feeling, and I began to yearn for it.


The roots of my eating disorder were planted.


At that moment, Little Sarah’s food biography was taking root. I felt less than with my family’s scarcity and lack of resources. When I could finally have something I really wanted, I could never get enough and never wanted it to end. 


Later, during my struggle with an eating disorder, this feeling of “less than” would play out over and over again subconsciously, perpetually feeling like I was never enough and never being able to get enough. Looking back, this feeling of being food insecure impacted my relationship with eating and body weight well into my adulthood.


I would restrict my efforts to control myself and my body, never feeling good enough. Then I would crave what I truly wanted while trying to deny myself. Finally, I would give in and then binge until I couldn’t breathe. For just a moment, I would feel satisfied. 


But then the guilt, shame, and discomfort would overpower me, and I would turn to a secret place to compensate for what I had done and purge. Swearing to myself that would be the last time.


The cycle would then repeat itself over and over. Breaking a binge-purge bulimic cycle is extremely difficult on its own, and more so knowing that adults who have been through food insecurity have higher associations with bulimia pathology into their adulthood.


It wouldn’t be until a year into my recovery after giving myself and my body full permission to enjoy a bowl of Lucky Charms that I would finally feel good enough. 


If you are struggling with an eating disorder, I want to encourage you.


  • Your story matters.
  • Looking at your roots without judgment is healing. 
  • The work will always include how to move forward and reframe.
  • You have a food biography full of answers, especially if you were ever food insecure.


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